A sports sedan disguised as a mid-size luxury car.
by Sam Moses
Base Price (MSRP) $29,465
As Tested (MSRP) $32,785
WOW! We were expecting a mid-size luxury car when we climbed into the Infiniti I30t. What we got was a luxurious sports sedan.
The I30 performs well whether it's in heavy metropolitan traffic, on mountain passes or long, undulating desert roads. We've driven this latest-generation I30 through sweeping turns in Washington's Columbia River valley, and through the heavy traffic of Southern California and Washington, D.C. We found the Infiniti I30 boasts exceptional handling, a smooth ride and lots of performance from its twin-cam V6 engine. This car is stable at high speeds and under hard braking. Its elegant interior offers supportive leather seats that are comfortable on long trips.
To this, the I30t Touring model adds a sports suspension and other equipment designed to turn this Infiniti into a sports sedan. Both models offer a great value among mid-size luxury sedans.
Infiniti's I30 is available in two models, I30 Luxury Sedan ($29,465) and I30t Touring Sedan ($31,540).
Trim levels are identical. Both models come with the same 227-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 and 4-speed automatic transmission, a smooth, quiet drivetrain that provides excellent performance.
Ride and handling are the main differences between the I30 and I30t. The I30 offers a more luxurious ride, while the I30t is tuned for sporty handling.
The I30 Luxury Sedan comes with numerous features we'd expect to find on a luxury sedan, plus some others that surprised us. Large and roomy, the interior sports an elegant design with handsome leather seats. Automatic temperature control, leather wrapped steering wheel and supple leather seating surfaces add comfort and warmth. A 200-watt Bose AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system, tuned to the I30's interior, further enhances the car's elegance. Heated seats and heated outside mirrors are a $420 option.
The I30t Touring Sedan receives all the luxurious treatment of the I30, but is tuned for more precise handling. Its Touring suspension reduces body roll in corners, while wider, larger-diameter tires (225/50VR17) mounted on alloy wheels provide greater grip. A viscous limited-slip differential is added to provide better grip when accelerating out of tight corners. I30t also comes standard with High Intensity Discharge Xenon low-beam headlights offer improved visibility on dark roads.
Infiniti is Nissan's luxury car division and the Infiniti I30 is based on the same basic platform as the superb Nissan Maxima. When Nissan redesigned the Maxima and I30 for 2000, the company made a conscience decision to give each vehicle its own character and image. Designed to offer performance, practicality and value, the Nissan Maxima sports radical styling.
I30 is more conservative, designed to offer luxury and attention to detail. The Infiniti retailers (the dealerships) are trained to reflect this, offering a higher level of service and attention to the needs of their customers. Infiniti owners demand this.
The I30 is actually 2 inches longer than the Maxima, but this isn't noticeable from the outside. Unique styling projects elegance. The soft, gentle slope of the hood and front fender line draws your eye to the redesigned front-end treatment that features Infiniti's trademark grille and powerful lighting design. The rear-end design is less distinctive than the front, although the taillight treatment adds sparkle.
In addition to the wheels and tires, the I30t is distinguished by a smoked headlight treatment. An optional Touring Sport Package ($1,000) adds a rear spoiler and aerodynamic side sills.
It may not be evident from the outside, but glide into any of the I30's seating positions and you immediately get the sense of roominess. Front-seat legroom and headroom have been increased over the previous-generation (1999) I30; rear-seat legroom is increased as well. The expansive amount of glass gives excellent visibility in all directions.
Up front are comfortable bucket seats. An eight-way power driver's seat complements a four-way passenger seat. Both the forward movement of the steering wheel and the driver's seat have been increased to offer an improved ergonomic position. The front seats incorporate an active head restraint system designed to help reduce injury from whiplash by automatically moving the headrest forward to support the head and neck in an accident.
Instruments are highly visible and switches are easy to operate. The instruments are virtually blacked out until you turn the key, then they come alive with a backlit design that makes the needles seem to hang in mid air. Climbing into the rear seats we immediately noticed the additional legroom. On paper it is a scant 1.9-inch improvement, but it seems as though it is much larger. Headroom is good front and rear. A foot-operated parking brake pedal has replaced the hand brake of the previous generation. While we prefer a hand-operated parking brake, moving it to the floor has uncluttered the center console and improved the appearance.
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls have been added for 2001 for enhanced safety and convenience. An automatic anti-glare rear view mirror with integrated compass is also new for 2001. Every car should have a compass.
I30's big trunk offers a low lift-in height to make loading cargo much easier. Trunk lid hinges intrude upon the cargo space when you shut the trunk lid, however. For 2001, an emergency inside trunk release was added for increased safety.
Infiniti might classify the I30 as a luxury car, but it could have fooled us: we thought we were behind the wheel of a sporty midsize coupe with luxurious interior. The ride, handling and transmission of the I30 Touring Sedan are all extremely impressive. We felt comfortable the moment we drove away in the car, and for the next week our opinion of the performance of the suspension only got higher, while the only time we even thought about the transmission was when we marveled at how seamless it was.
We drove maybe 300 miles on Washington's two-lane Highway 14, winding along the Columbia River, back and forth to Portland International Raceway for a CART race. There were opportunities to challenge the suspension, steering, transmission and brakes, and try as we might we couldn't get the I30 to complain or misbehave. Stable and even-keeled are the key words. There's virtually no body lean, even driving aggressively through switchback turns, yet there's nothing stiff feeling about the suspension. You can pitch the I30t into a sharp turn harder than is necessary, and it will turn quickly without any sort of negative feedback at all.
As for the ride, Infiniti is masterful in working with the independent front and multi-link rear. The superb leather seats have a lot to do with the feeling of comfort of the ride, but not so much that you can't tell it's the suspension that's somehow erasing the bumps. The I30t also maintained its composure on long waves of roller coaster desert roads in California with miniature peaks and valleys that compress then quickly unload the suspension. This is a car that you can drive forever and be almost oblivious to the condition of the road surface.
Besides driving quickly through turns, we found two other situations where the I30t passed the test with flying colors. Changing lanes on the freeway, back and forth, there was never a hint of wandering. And on bumpy surfaces, in a curve, under braking, again: rock steady-and this is a test that few cars can ace. Even during a panic stop to test the four-wheel ABS ventilated discs, there was very little nosedive. During normal use, the brake pedal has an excellent feel. This remained true following numerous hard braking maneuvers; the brakes performed consistently no matter how we abused them.
The twin-cam V6 engine is celebrated for its smoothness, and its 227 horsepower seems like plenty. The torque peak comes at 4000 rpm, which doesn't make it a (low-rpm) grunty engine; the car gathers speed, it doesn't throw it at you. Under normal acceleration, you can scarcely feel the upshifts; when you hold your foot to the floor, they come like the silent slice of a knife at about 6200 rpm, with the rev limiter electronically triggers at about 6600. We think this is one of the best V6 engines available.
Though the standard I30 works fine, the Touring equipment raises the I30t's abilities a notch. The steering seemed to be just a bit vague in the I30, but felt much tighter in the I30t. The I30 is easier to maneuver in tight parking garages, however, because it offers tighter turning circle (35.4 feet curb-to-curb versus 40.0 feet). Optional electronic traction control ($300) minimizes wheelspin when accelerating over slippery surfaces. A viscous limited-slip differential comes standard on the I30t that helps distribute torque between the front wheels.
This is a great luxury sports sedan. The cabin is quiet and comfortable when all you want to do is settle into the drive, turn up the Bose system and cruise on down the highway. It comes with one of the best V6 engines available. The engine is smooth and quiet in normal use and the transmission shifts so smoothly that you can scarcely feel it. But stand on it and the I30 delivers thrilling acceleration performance.
Starting at less than $30,000, the Infiniti I30 offers a luxurious interior wrapped in a stylish package with excellent performance and handling.
We preferred the I30t (Touring) for its improved handling. It's extremely stable and easy to drive at high speeds.
The I30 also comes with Infiniti's Total Ownership Experience, designed to pamper the owner whenever visiting the dealership for service. This is a vehicle one can live with for years and never be disappointed in your choice of wheels.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.